No Banana Republic

No less an authority than Polly Toynbee this week proclaimed: “The sums are so vast, the secrecy so shocking, that “chumocracy” doesn’t begin to capture what Britain has become – redolent as we are of banana republics, the Russian oligarchy and failed states.”

If you look at the seemingly Teflon career of Matt Hancock (dry your eyes mate) and the torrent of information about corruption and nepotism disclosed by the Good Law Project, which last week proved in the high court that the government had breached what the judge called the “vital public function” of transparency over “vast quantities” of taxpayers’ money. They revealed a “VIP fast-lane” for PPE contracts that made the contacts of ministers, MPs, peers and officials 10 times more likely to win contracts.

But this is no Banana Republic.
Alongside this debacle was another one – the departure from “duties” as Prince Harry and Meghan Markel left the Royal Family, for good. As the Duke of Edinburgh  remained in hospital this weekend the young couple hot-footed it for the Oprah and James Corden Shows to rap with the Fresh Prince of Bel Air on the Late Late Show

It is a confirmation that has shocked few but has left the Queen feeling “saddened”. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have informed Her Majesty that they will not be returning as working members of the Royal family. Buckingham Palace announced the decision after the Queen wrote to the couple, confirming that in stepping away from official duties, it was not possible to continue with “the responsibilities and duties that come with a life of public service”.

But the announcement was met with a strangely muted response.

Sure Nicholas Witchell was upset and HELLO must be bereft. But the allure of the Royals has been eroded over decades and has very little goodwill left in the bank. The shine and glamour, the allure of Monarchy is not so much tarnished as trashed. Reduced to the American talkshow circuit, Harry and Meghan have left the institution – what Nairn described as both the apex and essence of the pseudo-modern British state, the symbol of a national backwardness.

From the People’s Princess to the Late Late Show
If Diana’s death unleashed a weird flood of national grievance in 1997, twenty four years later the latest setback barely summoned a couple of days headlines in the re-tops. If the People’s Princess death provoked a rash of ‘national’ introspection the latest royal crisis was marked with mass disinterest.

But everything is accelerating now. This is decline in hyper-speed even if it seems slow and tedious. The gap between 1997 and today has seen Britain fall apart, the period between Harry and Meghan’s wedding in May 2018 and now has seen the Union collapse (The Sociology of Grovelling).
As Nairn wrote in the aftermath of Diana’s death in 1997 of the “last vestiges of life disappear from the wondrous mirror” (The Departed Spirit):
“Other empires have been shattered on the wheel of military defeat, revolution or economic catastrophe: this one was merely shaken down by an accidental wind into the sweet, wry decomposition of a Post-Modern September. Though the dying fall still had some grandeur in it, there was an unmistakable relief that it was over. It showed throughout the mourning. What the crowds wanted was enigmatic, but it felt as though they had gathered to witness auguries of a coming time, without knowing what these might be. England is due a future – one that can smartly exorcise the ghosts of Balmoral and Windsor.”

For a nation struggling with pandemic we have been left abandoned by the Windsors who are mired in their own sleaze and scandal. Even if the myth of the Blitz spirit, a trope so often called upon in Brexitland Britain was a fiction, the Royals have been conspicuous by their absence during covid, an ill-thought-out trip to Edinburgh aside.

The myth of Britain as a place and a story that can be updated takes a hit from this. Like in much of British society we are hurtling backwards. The soft story we were told of Harry and Meghan as a contemporary couple – updating and refreshing a tired institution has failed. The most modest vanilla multiculturalism was impossible. The institutions of Britain could not cope with even the most simple expression of contemporary culture.
Nobody will care for a second about their departure. It will not effect anybody’s life for a moment.
Now we are left with the porcelain Kate and her dullard husband. It’s like a re-set to the 1970s Royals, dull and sedentary and quiet.
With the scandal of Prince Andrew festering in the background the Queen’s own conduct has risen to the fore.

A series of government memos unearthed in the National Archives reveal that Elizabeth Windsor’s private lawyer put pressure on ministers to alter proposed legislation to prevent her shareholdings from being disclosed to the public.

Following the Queen’s intervention, the government inserted a clause into the law granting itself the power to exempt companies used by “heads of state” from new transparency measures.

The arrangement, which was concocted in the 1970s, was used in effect to create a state-backed shell corporation which is understood to have placed a veil of secrecy over the Queen’s private shareholdings and investments until at least 2011.

None of this is new.

In 2017 the Paradise Papers showed that the Duchy of Lancaster, which manages investments for the Queen’s £520m private estate, invested around £10m in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda-based funds. It also showed that the Queen holds investments in businesses including BrightHouse, which has been accused of exploiting people with mental health problems and learning disabilities in order to sell its products.

The attempt to separate the Queen from “her advisors” can’t be allowed to stand. The Duchy of Lancaster is a private estate managed specifically to generate a return for the reigning monarch. That is its sole purpose.

It was set up in 1399 and manages investments held in trust for the Queen. The most recent filings (March 2017) show it had assets worth £519m.

Only astonishing levels of fealty and patriotic self-delusion allow this to be maintained.

Remember when Diana died and the country went into meltdown because of the way the Queen responded (or something). Blair talked of the “People’s Princess” and Elton John sang a Candle in the Wind and everyone cried for weeks? Imagine if people actually responded now with just a fraction of the same emotional intensity to these revelations?

As the author and investigative journalist Kevin Cahill has pointed out, wealth is about land:

“The world’s primary feudal landowner is Queen Elizabeth II. She is Queen of 32 countries, head of a Commonwealth of 54 countries in which a quarter of the world’s population lives, and legal owner of about 6.6 billion acres of land, one-sixth of the earth’s land surface. Her position is a relic of the last and largest land empire in history, rumours of whose demise would appear to be somewhat premature based on her position and possessions. But her power is real, or at least legally real, and it derives from a tradition based on a specific and unbalanced relationship between rulers and the ruled.”

Of the world’s 24 largest tax havens, the Queen is sovereign of no fewer than 13.

These two twin scandals – the PPE and the cronyism, and beside it the collapse of the Royal family are not two separate and distinct phenomenon. Britain is exposed to scandal and a dreadful lack of transparency because it is a feudal relic.

Britain is irredeemable.

As we move towards self-determination the argument has always been “don’t talk of a republic”, a constitutional version of not frightening the horses. But, to keep the equine metaphor going, that horse has bolted. As we plan the constitution of a Scottish democracy it’s become essential that we frame that in terms of being a new republic. The only people who will mourn the Royal family won’t be voting yes anyway.



Comments (12)

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  1. Tom Ultuous says:

    Totally agree Mike. If she had any sense she’d take a leaf out of Harry and Meghan’s book and close down the family business herself. Given her age she might not be too worried about her own head but she should consider the safety of her family before Murdoch dies and the English finally wake up to what mugs they’ve been.

  2. MacNaughton says:

    The expression “banana republic” is a racist term used by the neo-colonial UK press to describe former imperial territories which were invaded, subjugated and systematically exploited and underdeveloped by Western democracies over several centuries, and are still most brutally exploited to this very day.

    It is term coined by the descendants of imperialists and employed as often or not by the direct or indirect beneficiaries of the mass plunder of Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean by Britain and other Western powers.

    It is also worth remembering that the instability, lack of transparency and corruption often seen in countries in the developing world ruled by corrupt elites have been expressly backed, supported and in some cases even put into power by the paymasters of Andrew Rawnsley, Poly Toynbee and that truly spineless and pathetic group of people known as “liberal England”, a London elite who refuse to face up to their own past and the holocaust of the Slave Trade and the legacy of the East India Company which is on a par in its systematic horror with the Nazis…

    No one should use the expression “banana republic” to describe the regimes of countries which have systematically been underdeveloped by the West for 300 years… it is surely the last straw….

    1. Of course it is. I was being sardonic.

      1. MacNaughton says:

        Obviously agree with you about the need for a Scottish Republic. Nothing less will do….

    2. J Galt says:

      I think you’ll find it was a term coined to describe an ex colonial state dependent on a commodity (such as fruit for instance) and subject to the attentions of European or US based corporations exploiting said commodity and using bribery and/or violence to extend their influence.

      Research O. Henry or United Fruit Company.

      1. MacNaughton says:

        Exactly, as I recall it (and no doubt it will be on the internet), “banana republic” is a term coined by the Americans when they went about toppling democratic governments in Central America on behalf of the United Fruit Company just after WWII, like the bloody coup in Guatemala of 1954.

        In any case, whatever its provenance, it is a deeply ideological term, a Western, neo-colonial, imperialist term, not a serious category for political science (a “Failed State” would be the correct way of describing such states).

        But Rawnsley and Toynbee just reel it off without any reflection. Of course they do work for The Guardian, which supported the illegal war in Iraq…

        These people are neo-imperialists or neo-colonialists, and they consider Scotland a kind of quasi imperial or colonial hinterland… not very unlike the Americans have always considered Central America…

      2. Pub Bore says:

        Yep, the term was coined by O. Henry in his short story collection, Cabbages and Kings, to characterise the regime of Anchuria, where the stories are set, and which he modelled on that of Honduras, which at the time he was hiding-out there from the US government was governed by a conglomeration of US fruit companies operating a system of state capitalism for the exclusive profit of their owners. No racism whatsoever attaches to the term – unless, of course, you make the racist assumption that all banana republics are Black or Latino.

  3. Daniel Lamont says:

    In your final paragraph, you refer to planning ‘the constitution of a Scottish democracy’. Is this happening? If so, where? I know that there are various ad-hoc groups considering the matter but is there any serious activity which might be well enough developed to be part of a ‘prospectus’ for independance?

    1. Pub Bore says:

      I’m sure lots of wee fringe parties and wishful-thinkers are currently planning the constitution of our future state, in anticipation of their being swept to power by the revolution that will be ‘Independence’.

      There’s an awful lot of fantasy politics out there.

  4. SleepingDog says:

    When a mafia family capture the state, they become royalty. When they become royalty, they institutionalise and consolidate their power with laws, customs, patronage, force, oaths, secrecy, terror, diversions, massacres, censorship, oppression, war, looting, propaganda, honours, and forging strong connections with like families abroad, by intermarriage or networking. The imperial crimes of British royalty put them in the top category of all-time human cruelty, depravity and slaying power. They are a fundamentally anti-democratic force. They have covered up much of British history, because it is a record of their extreme criminality, callousness about their subjects and damage to the natural environment. Some of these records are not far from the reaching the end of the desecretisation pipeline, and when they emerge, there should be a reckoning not just for us and for the future, but for all their victims in centuries past.

  5. Doug Hepburn says:

    I have long said that the end of the Monarchy is both inevitable and essential. That said I have also come to accept that as long as Brenda is still breathing nothing will change. When it come to Chuck though all bets are off, though she could of course out live him, then it would be the Cambridges running the firm.

    All the talk of a Republic though runs hard against the non-democracy in the USA. If we are to have a Republic then there will have to be very careful planning to make sure we can never end up in that kind of mire.

    1. Pub Bore says:

      The republic already exists. The matter is how and by whom do we want our public affairs (‘res publica’) to be regulated if at all. And the immediate question is how we’re going to decide this matter and implement our decision.

      What answer to the immediate question would you propose?

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